TRIPOLI, (Reuters) – France and Britain, who first launched air attacks on Libya in coalition with the United States, on Tuesday criticised NATO’S bombing campaign, saying it must do more to stop Muammar Gaddafi bombarding civilians.
NATO took over air operations from the three nations on March 31 but heavy government bombardment of the besieged western city of Misrata has continued unabated with hundreds of civilians reported killed.
The criticism by London and Paris followed new shelling of Misrata on Monday and the collapse of an African Union peace initiative.
Echoing rebel complaints, Alain Juppe told France Info radio, “It’s not enough.”
He said NATO must stop Gaddafi shelling civilians and take out heavy weapons bombarding Misrata. In a barbed reference to the alliance command of the operation, Juppe added: “NATO must play its role fully. It wanted to take the lead in operations, we accepted that.”
British Foreign Secretary William Hague also said NATO must intensify attacks, calling on other alliance countries to match London’s supply of extra ground attack aircraft in Libya.
NATO, is operating under a U.N. mandate to protect civilians, stepped up air strikes around Misrata and the eastern battlefront city of Ajdabiyah at the weekend. It rejected the criticism.
“NATO is conducting its military operations in Libya with vigour within the current mandate. The pace of the operations is determined by the need to protect the population,” it said.
Libyan state television said on Tuesday a NATO strike on the town of Kikla, south of Tripoli, had killed civilians and members of the police force. It did not give details.
PEACE TALKS FAIL
The spat within the alliance came after heavy shelling and street fighting in the coastal city of Misrata on Monday where Human Rights Watch says at least 250 people, mostly civilians, have died.
Rebels on Monday rejected an African Union peace plan, saying there could be no deal unless Gaddafi was toppled. His son Saif al Islam said such an idea was ridiculous.
Rebel leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil on Tuesday thanked Western countries for the air strikes but said they could not relieve besieged cities and appealed for arms and supplies.
“NATO’s air fleet cannot deliver the occupied cities where Gaddafi’s forces, using the civilian populations as a human shield, have now taken cover,” he said in a statement, adding that the insurgents needed time to build an army capable of toppling the Libyan leader.
Abdel Jalil pointedly named French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who the rebels hail as a hero, as the leader of the coalition supporting his forces.
Sarkozy led calls for military intervention in Libya and his warplanes were the first to attack Gaddafi’s forces.
NATO is unpopular among many insurgents, both because they believe it initially reacted slowly to government attacks and because it has killed almost 20 rebels in two mistaken bombings.
Although they have recently praised the alliance after its attacks helped break a major government assault on Ajdabiyah, many of the rebels in the field still hailed Sarkozy.
Gaddafi’s forces on Tuesday bombarded the western entrance to Ajdabiyah, launch point for insurgent attacks towards the oil port of Brega on the eastern front. There were eight blasts, apparently from artillery.
Rebels said earlier they were about 40 km (25 miles) west of Ajdabiyah, a strategic crossroads that has been the focus of fierce battles in the last two months.
NATO attacks outside Ajdabiyah on Sunday helped break the biggest assault by Gaddafi’s forces on the eastern front for at least a week. The town is the gateway to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi 150 km (90 miles) north up the Mediterranean coast.
Amnesty International on Tuesday accused Gaddafi forces of executing prisoners, killing protesters and attacking refugees.
Rebels in Misrata, their last major bastion in western Libya and under siege for six weeks, scorned reports that Gaddafi had accepted a cease-fire, saying they were fighting house-to-house battles with his forces.
Rebels told Reuters that Gaddafi’s forces had intensified the assault, for the first time firing truck-mounted, Russian-made Grad rockets into the city, where conditions for civilians are said to be desperate.
The difficulty for Western nations in maintaining momentum in Libya was revealed in a Reuters/Ipsos MORI on Tuesday that found ambiguous and uncertain support for the operation among Britons, Americans and Italians.
While they supported ousting Gaddafi, they were worried about the costs of a military campaign and uncertain about the objectives. Support was more solid in France.
Gaddafi’s former foreign minister Moussa Koussa, speaking in Britain where he fled last month, said on Tuesday the war risked making Libya a failed state like Somalia.
Koussa, who will attend an international meeting on Libya’s future in Doha on Wednesday, called for national unity in an interview with the BBC.